New York District Attorney Indicted For Covering Up Police Violence
U.S. Attorney says the evidence against him is “overwhelming”
In a rare turn of events, a prosecutor is being prosecuted for his role in covering up police violence. District Attorney Thomas Spota of Suffolk County, New York was one of two law enforcement officials indicted on Wednesday for obstructing a federal investigation into a brutal beating by a former county police chief.
Spota and Christopher McPartland, who leads a corruption-fighting team in the prosecutor’s office, allegedly helped Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke hide that he punched a handcuffed prisoner in the head in 2012. The prisoner, Christopher Loeb, had been arrested for stealing personal items from Burke’s SUV, including sex toys and pornography. He was brought to the police station and shackled in an interrogation room, where Burke proceeded to beat him brutally.
Burke was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 46 months in prison last November. But the FBI also launched an investigation into a possible cover-up of the incident, and Spota and McPartland were allegedly involved in a “four-year attempt to obstruct that investigation.” According to a court document filed Wednesday, they tried to “to obstruct the federal investigation by, among other means, using intimidation, threats and corrupt persuasion to pressure multiple witnesses, including co-conspirators, not to cooperate with the federal investigation, to provide false information, including false testimony under oath, and to withhold relevant information to prosecutors.”
U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde says there is “overwhelming” evidence — photographs, telephone and financial records, witnesses, and police documents — that points to the officials’ involvement. They are indicted on multiple counts, including obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and conspiracy, and could spend 20 years behind bars.
“Instead of upholding their oaths, these defendants allegedly abused the power of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, attempted to cover up the assault of an in-custody defendant, and attempted to thwart a federal grand jury investigation,” Rohde said. “Abuses of power by law enforcement authorities cannot and will not be tolerated. There are serious consequences to such actions.”
It is widely known that local prosecutors rarely hold police accountable for officer violence. The two groups have a cozy relationship, working together to investigate and convict criminal defendants. Police officers also have the law of the land on their side; they are given reasonable doubt when making split-second decisions that lead to bodily harm or death. Moreover, district attorneys themselves are rarely prosecuted for misconduct. They wield a ton of discretion and generally operate with impunity because few people in positions of authority are scrutinizing what they do behind closed doors.
For a district attorney to face prosecution for covering up police brutality is practically unheard of.
Spota is no stranger to controversy. According to a Newsday investigation published in May 2016, his office, with the help of McPartland and Burke, “cultivated informants, sent co-conspirators undercover wearing wires, conducted surveillance, issued subpoenas and obtained warrants to wiretap more than a dozen phone numbers,” to probe corrupt public officials. But instead of bringing criminal charges against the perpetrators, Spota allegedly negotiated with them. He’s been accused of similar behavior by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who publicly called for the district attorney’s resignation in 2015.
Facing these new criminal charges, Spota announced his resignation on Thursday.